ADF renews pledge of allegiance to new Islamic State leader

Allied Democratic Force’s overall leader, Musa Baluku (center), as seen in the recent video under his kunya [nom de guerre], Abu Abdul Rahman al Muhajir.

In a recently released video, the Islamic State’s local representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or its Central Africa Province (ISCAP), more commonly known as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), renewed its bay’ah [allegiance] to the global jihadist organization’s new leader. 

The video, largely in Swahili but subtitled in Arabic, features the ADF’s overall leader Musa Baluku reciting the group’s bay’ah to Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, the new overall leader of the Islamic State. Baluku’s role in the video was confirmed to the authors by former ADF members. 

Abu al-Hassan, the Islamic State’s new so-called Caliph, took over for Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quriashi, after the latter was killed in a US military operation in northwestern Syria in early February. 

According to Islamic tradition, bay’ah is performed at the individual level rather than group level. As such, bay’ah must be renewed if a commander or leader dies. 

The ADF previously had allegiance to Islamic State’s first so-called caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and then to his successor Abu Ibrahim following Abu Bakr’s own demise in Oct. 2019. 

Since the Islamic State confirmed Abu al-Hassan’s appointment last month, the group has shown its various provinces around the world renewing their oaths of allegiance. The ADF is thus acting in line with the Islamic State’s overall directive to film the oath renewal. 

Baluku’s short speech is riddled with pro-Islamic State messaging. For instance, the jihadist commander proudly states, “God willing, we will rule over the entirety of this land under the Shari’a of God in the nose of the infidels, despite their [the infidels] plots and malice against the Islamic State.”

Showing how his group, and the Islamic State more generally, has not been deterred by the deaths of the Islamic State’s top leadership, Baluku also rhetorically questions: “With the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, what has changed? With the death of Sheikh Zarqawi, what has changed?”

According to Baluku:

“Nothing has changed, indeed, the [flame of] war was ignited and heated. And today, with the death of Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, nothing has changed. Instead we will persevere on our path until the end of time, God willing. We will make the world know that we in the Central Africa Province have not and will not change. We will persevere in our jihad, even if we die in this fight.”

Following the short speech, Baluku leads a group of ADF fighters in reciting a new pledge of allegiance to Islamic State’s Abu al-Hassan. Fighters from other camps in the Congolese bush can also be seen reciting the pledge, indicating the ADF’s unity in this decision. 

At least one ADF fighter can be seen with what appears to be a suicide vest, a clear indication of the group’s growing willingness to utilize such a tactic. The ADF only began using suicide bombings last year. 

One scene in the video was likely filmed by the Islamic State’s branch inside Mozambique, the other half of its Central Africa Province. However, the majority of the video appears to take place inside eastern Congo, as was the case in the ADF’s 2019 bay’ah video, the first ADF video published by official Islamic State media outlets. 

Growing local adoption of the Islamic State’s identity

Included in the bay’ah renewal video is a clip of an ADF fighter reciting a Swahili-language nasheed, or an Islamic piece of music performed a cappella, recorded at the same time as Baluku’s speech, given the presence of the same individuals in both sections of the video. The use of nasheeds is commonplace in jihadist propaganda.

The nasheed included in the recent video is noteworthy, however, as it provides further evidence of the ADF’s enthusiastic adoption of its identity as part of the Islamic State. The nasheed shown in the video makes clear references to the Islamic State, its conflicts in Iraq and Syria, and to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. 

“It started in Iraq, the Caliph rose from the Quraish [Arab tribe from which the Prophet Muhammad descended], then expanded into Syria. So we answered the call, old and young, and we extended our hands in bay’ah to al-Baghdadi.”

While Swahili-language nasheeds have been recorded in the past, and particularly used in productions from al Shabaab, al Qaeda’s East African branch, this is the first time they have been featured in an official Islamic State release. 

This regionalization of long-standing Islamic State propaganda mediums not only illustrates the ADF’s enthusiasm for its evolution into an Islamic State province, but also the important role it serves for the Islamic State as part of the official branch representing the movement in Swahili-speaking East Africa. In doing so this also demonstrates the centrality of the ADF to the Islamic State’s regional ambitions. 

The ADF producing and releasing such a nasheed contrasts sharply with the kinds of songs sung by its combatants while under the leadership of founder Jamil Mukulu and is clearly an attempt to localize transnational Islamic State themes and aesthetics for East Africa. For instance, the July 2019 video in which the ADF reaffirmed its allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi featured an Arabic-language nasheed rather than a Swahili-language version. 

Previous efforts at Swahili-language Islamic State propaganda have been maintained only through semi-official, supporter-ran outlets translating official Arabic-language releases.  Most recently, this has included the May 2021 launch of an internet broadcast of the Islamic State’s news called “Radio Hijrateyn,” largely presenting news, statistics, and commentary taken from the Islamic State’s weekly Al-Naba newsletter.

These productions also come after the growing adoption of traditional Islamic State imagery in propaganda released from Congo, including hyper-violence and the use of black kanzus, a traditional tunic similar to the Arab thobe that is widely popular in East Africa.  

The production of hyper-violent propaganda releases is a clear homage to Islamic State productions at the height of its power in Iraq and Syria, while the frequent wearing of kanzus by ADF fighters in media releases may be another aesthetic signal of the ADF’s attempts to market itself as a regionally-oriented representative of the Islamic State’s global brand.

The enthusiastic adoption of Swahili-language productions for or on behalf of the Islamic State provides further demonstration of how the ADF’s internal identity is now that of the Islamic State’s. 

Despite the death of two Islamic State leaders, to both of whom the ADF had pledged its allegiance, this has not deterred the ADF from proudly proclaiming itself as the Islamic State’s local representative in Central Africa. 

Both authors are senior analysts at the Bridgeway Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to ending and preventing mass atrocities. 

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